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Thursday, June 30

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Sky Tue Jun 02 2009

You Gotta Have A Gimmick

wnbaball.gif(Editor's Note: The Sky's game against the E-League was held Tuesday night, and will not be held on Saturday as indicated. The Sky will open their regular WNBA season on Saturday at Minnesota and host their first home contest on June 12. We apologize for the error.)
While it does have its staunch supporters, the WNBA hasn't really become the must-see sporting event it hoped to be when it was launched in 1997 under the catchy slogan "We Got Next". Individual franchises like the New York Liberty or Los Angeles Sparks may pull in decent sized crowds, but for the most part the rest of the league has audiences on a par with the old CBA in their best days. According to one website, Women's Basketball Online, seven of the league's 14 franchises saw a drop in attendance in 2008. Since its inception, the league has seen five franchises fold and two relocate (though there is still talk of expansion to places like Nashville and Toronto).

Those lackluster attendance numbers are not for lack of quality talent. While the initial crop of WNBA stars boasted such talent as Rebecca Lobo, Lisa Leslie and Sheryl Swoopes, the current list of league stars might just be the best female basketball stars ever, with former Naperville Central star Candace Parker (Los Angeles Sparks but out on maternity leave) getting Michael Jordan-like praise as the possible savior of the league.

But there are still those sparse arenas, those gimmicky attempts to get butts into the seat. Which is why the Chicago Sky will be playing actor Michael Clarke Duncan in a basketball game tonight at 7pm at the UIC Pavilion.

Duncan, a Chicago native, will be leading something call the E-League ("E" being short for "Entertainment") into a game tipping off at 7 p.m., a collection of not-quite-B-listers (rapper Nelly, "Malcolm In The Middle" star Frankie Muniz, "Scrubs" sidekick Donald Faison, etc.) in the "Basketball Battle of the Sexes" against the Sky utilizing the WNBA rules regarding the three-point line, shot clock and ball.

Sure it's hokey. Celebrity games always are. But the Sky, in their fourth year of existence and coming within a hair's width of making the playoffs last season, has to play the hokey card to compete in a city glutted with sporting diversions both professional, amateur, academic and recreational that vie for the fan dollar. Yes, the names of team stars like Dominique Canty, Sylvia Fowles and Chan Nen (MVP of the Women's Chinese Basketball Association) should be enough to get hoops fans interested on a regular basis, but until that day... well, somebody guard Jamie Kennedy.

Incidentially, the Sky aren't the only local team throwing down the gender gauntlet. The Chicago Bandits fastpitch softball team plans to take on the Schaumburg Flyers independent baseball team in a fastpitch softball game on July 27 using National Pro Fastpitch rules, including underhand pitching on both teams.

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